love runs in
Yesterday I had a boiled sweet potato and a cup of black coffee for breakfast. I spent the morning finalizing changes on the manual we’ll be using to train teachers how to treat their students’ basic illness and injuries.
Then I sat down with a South Sudanese young man and did a practice training with him to make sure the manual was culturally sensitive and relevant, and explained medical practices and protocols clearly. I listened to his questions and suggestions, and made some adjustments to the training materials.
Yesterday was close to 100 degrees, and after sitting at the table for a few hours going over the manual, we were both tired and hot and sweaty. I was looking forward to taking a cool shower and drinking a liter (or five!) of water.
But as I was getting up from the table, he put his hand on mine and said, “May I tell you something that has been on my heart since you arrived yesterday?”
“Yes, of course,” I said.
He proceeded to say, “When the war started, many, many people left. The citizens left. Many doctors left. The NGO workers left.”
“Many people do not want to come to a war zone,” he said.
I nodded again.
“But — “ he added. “You did not run away from South Sudan. You ran in for us.”
I smiled, and blinked back tears.
“You are love,” he said. “Because love runs in.”
Love runs in.
In the afternoon we found out that in the past few days, the government has cracked down on traveling from city to city due to safety concerns. The training I’m leading is on Monday, and we have to travel to get there. But now we needed to get government clearance to allow us to go.
So we scheduled an emergency meeting with a high-ranking government official who has the authority to give us clearance.
I climbed into the back of the Land Rover with the American woman and the South Sudanese man who run the non-profit, and we drove to meet the official.
My first thought when I saw him was that he looked like he’d just eaten three of me. He towered over 6 feet, and thighs were thicker than my waist.
We sat down with him, and the non-profit leaders explained the purpose for the training, and why it’s imperative for us to get clearance to travel.
“Who is leading this training?” he asked in a deep voice.
They pointed to me.
He looked at me with an intense gaze, starting with my feet and working up until we made eye contact. I sat with my shoulders back, hands folded in my lap, meeting his gaze calm, trying to look simultaneously non-threatening and competent.
“Tell me what you will teach,” he said.
I told him about the first aid training, and about training teachers to recognize serious pediatric illnesses so we can intervene before these students become the 135 in 1000 kids who die each year in South Sudan.
“Do you have a work visa?” he asked.
“No,” I said. “I’m not getting paid for the training. I’m volunteering my time.”
His look softened. He almost smiled.
“You don’t do this for money?” he asked.
I shook my head. “No,” I said. “Not for money. For love — because I love your children in South Sudan.”
At the end of the meeting, he stood, shook our hands and gave us the clearance we needed to travel.
It was after dark when we returned to the compound. We ate a meal of fish and cow peas (large green peas in a creamy sauce) and rice.
After dinner, the American woman and I sat on the back steps of the dining room with the two young women who work in the kitchen.
Because there’s no light pollution here, the stars are incredible. We identified Orion’s belt, and tried to find other constellations in the sky.
I thought of the Lost Boys and the millions of others who fled across Sudan with nothing to guide them but rivers and stars.
The girls brought out a crank-operated radio, and they found a station far away that was playing American music.
For a few hours, we danced and talked and laughed.
The last song that played before the radio died was Otis Redding’s, “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long To Stop Now.”
I went to sleep with that song playing in my head, thinking about love, and how love has brought me here to South Sudan.
And no matter how hard it gets, I’ve been loving the world too long to stop now.